WASHINGTON -- The road Quenton Jackson traveled to the G-League is one which has forever ingrained in him a sense of gratitude and appreciation for the present. He embodies the mantra of 'be where your feet are,' even when his sneakers are 40 inches above the ground.
Well, about that. Technically, Jackson recorded an official vertical leap of 38 1/2 inches at the 2022 G-League prospect combine in May. But that defies belief when you watch him fly through the air at 6-foot-5, throwing down one of his numerous highlight dunks.
Jackson says the showcase came at a bad time, right as he was crisscrossing the country for pre-draft workouts with half of the NBA's 30 teams.
"I got up as high as I could, 38 on a bad day is good for me," he told NBC Sports Washington.
That makes more sense, as Jackson's athleticism jumps off the screen during Capital City Go-Go games. The 24-year-old L.A.-native is trying to achieve his dream of playing in the NBA and he's currently laying the foundation in the Wizards' system.
Attend a Go-Go game in Southeast D.C. and you're liable to see him soar above the rim. Earlier this season against Raptors 905, he drove baseline for a merciless poster dunk.
Then, later in the game, he broke free off a turnover for a windmill slam.
Jackson's journey in aerial acrobatics began at an early age, even though he was a late bloomer dunking the basketball. As a kid, he was always outside and on the move, doing standing frontflips and backflips.
He can still do a backflip, even at 6-foot-5, and did so in the hallway after a game during his college days at Texas A&M.
Jackson learned how to flip by going to Sky Zone in Los Angeles, an indoor trampoline park. He knew the front desk attendant, so he got in for free.
"Me and my brother would just be jumping in there for hours. That's where I learned the technique for flipping, dunking and all of that," he said. "I feel like there's a technique to jumping, just like there is a technique to everything else. I feel like it helped me control my body in the air."
Jackson says he wasn't able to dunk until the summer between his junior and senior years of high school. He first dunked in a game as a senior.
Now he is playing well above the rim in the G-League. Jackson, a Go-Go rookie, is averaging 14.3 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.6 steals per game while shooting 50.7% from the field and 40.% from three.
"My bounce came late, but when it came it came," he said.
Jackson has an explosive first step when he makes a direct line to the rim, but his path to the Go-Go included some detours. Poor grades rendered him academically ineligible for Division 1 basketball by the end of his high school career, so he spent a year at Hillcrest Prep School in Arizona.
From there he went to the College of Central Florida in Ocala where he played two seasons, establishing himself as one of the best junior college players in the country. After his sophomore year, he was invited to the All-American JUCO Showcase in 2019 by Scott Golden, a junior college scout.
Jackson played in an All-Star game at the event, which highlighted the 20 best junior college players in the country in front of a bevy of Division 1 coaches.
"He was unbelievable. The first time you see him and he shows just even an ounce of his athleticism, you're pretty much mesmerized the rest of the game," Golden told NBC Sports Washington. "It was pretty easy to remember. He had some jawdropping plays athletically and just dominated the day."
Jackson won the dunk contest at the showcase, naturally. And as Golden remembers it, he also drew a crowd of fellow junior college stars after it was over. They surrounded the court as he continued to throw down gravity-defying slams.
"That was him. That's Quenton," Golden said.
Jackson was noticed by Buzz Williams, who was then the head coach at Virginia Tech before taking the job at Texas A&M. His first season with the Aggies was cut short due to COVID, but he broke out in his second year and put himself on the NBA radar.
"[The JUCO showcase] really changed the trajectory of my career in basketball," Jackson said.
Jackson was All-SEC at Texas A&M, but was not a surefire NBA prospect as a late bloomer in college. When Wizards vice president of player personnel Frank Ross first noticed him, he was at Texas A&M games scouting players on the opposing team.
It was Jackson's energy and explosiveness that caught Ross' eye and earned him an invite to a Wizards pre-draft workout. Jackson remembers it going very well, in part because Washington put him through up-tempo drills, playing to his strengths in transition.
Now he's playing for the Go-Go, working towards an NBA opportunity. Go-Go head coach Mike Williams says he impacts the team on both ends of the floor with his active hands on defense and quick-twitch burst on offense. He's continuing to improve as he learns NBA actions and coverages.
The more he understands about the NBA game, the more he can utilize his elite athleticism.
"He's got special bounce," Williams told NBC Sports Washington. "If he gets a step on you, you better watch out because he'll throw it down on you."
If Jackson can reach his goal of becoming an NBA player, he will do so having been humbled by his journey. Williams has been impressed by his consistent, upbeat spirit at practices and games. It's clear he doesn't take the opportunity for granted.
When they were first getting to know each other at Go-Go training camp, Jackson asked Williams how he was doing.
Williams recalled him saying: "How are you in a real way? How are you really doing?"
"He asked me that and I'm supposed to ask him that. So, now every time we see each other we say 'in a real way.' It shows his character. He genuinely cares about the people he's around," Williams said.
As Jackon tells it, he took the "long road." Maybe someday that road will lead to the NBA.